Thoughts, stories and events to share

Full of Potential: Luminary Bakery

Eleanor De, about 6 years ago

Luminary Bakery is a social enterprise in East London which provides a safe and professional environment where women can grow holistically. We asked Luminary Bakery's founder, Alice Boyle, some questions about their work and their vision.

When and why was Luminary Bakery set up?

The inspiration for Luminary came in 2012 from meeting women in East London who were experiencing disadvantage and hustling to get by. Getting to know local women living like this helped me to see that, although there were some complex issues they faced – one of the main things they really needed, was for someone to give them a chance.

Imagine trying to apply for jobs as a single mother, having survived domestic or sexual violence. What about trying to make a future for yourself, when living in poverty has led to you getting a criminal record? For many women these factors are so overwhelming that they don't have the confidence to try. I've met lots of women in East London living in these situations, there are currently 180,000 unemployed women in London. A study showed that an estimated 20,000 mothers in London have the earning potential to lift their families out of poverty through employment, but they they haven't had the opportunity. London also has high rates of violence against women – 3,000 rapes and 45,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the police last year alone.

Survivors of these situations face many barriers in getting in to work, but they have so much potential. Our charity, Kahaila, opened a café on Brick Lane in 2012 and wanted to create something that would help bridge the gap for these women into legitimate employment. So we started offering training, employment opportunities and a key aspect - community, to support them. We chose to use baking because we had skilled bakers on our team, it can be a therapeutic activity for the women to engage with, and from a business perspective it made sense as we had Kahaila café as a customer who could stock and sell our baked products. Luminary was born as a project in 2015 when we began baking products to sell in Kahaila café initially, and training local women in how to bake.

Tell me a bit about the programmes you run and the support you offer to participants.

We are now running our 6th employability training programme which lasts for 6 months and takes women on a journey to employment through both skills training and character development. The women come in one day a week for training including baking skills which get progressively more complex as well as a food hygiene & also a life skills qualification. They learn about developing character and getting used to being in a professional work environment. Outside of the training time we provide 1-2-1 support with mentoring, advocacy and practical help with benefits / housing / immigration issues where we can – a large part o this support is signposting & connecting the women with experts in these fields.

We now have 28 graduates from our programmes with an 88% success rate in going on to employment or further training after. We have employed 5 of the graduates from the programme in our commercial bakery which has been temporarily based in a Tower Hamlets cafe, and now has our own location in Hackney, and supported the other graduates into employment or training elsewhere – in Kahaila café or other businesses we have connections with (Pret a Manger, local cafes/bakeries, GAILs).

Are individuals referred to you or do they self-refer?

We do require a referral to be completed by a professional supporting her but they can make the initial contact themselves and then we figure out a suitable person to complete the referral. Some women have found us themselves online or been recommended the course by a friend, others come directly from charities / supported housing etc.

What has your experience been with employers?

Some employers have been really receptive – the Hilton I have to say has been a great company to work with on this. Some employers find criminal records difficult but we try to work with them to help them understand that it is possible to minimize risk and still give ex-offenders a chance, in our experience ex-offenders have been some of the most skilled, hardworking & trustworthy members of staff.

Do the individuals with whom you work continue to receive support from you once they find sustainable employment?

Yes, our offer of support is unending and many women utilise this as long as they need. Obviously we hope that they will need us less and less and things become more settled in their lives and they begin to live even more independently – that is always exciting to see. The community element of what we offer is something that everyone needs in their life and it's lovely having women who have come on a long way helping others earlier in their journey – they are great role models and inspirations.

How do measure success? What kind of success have you had?

We measure success in 3 main ways:

1. Women become more employable / move from welfare to work

This includes increasing skills and confidence levels, achieving qualifications, developing character ,undertaking work experience within the Luminary Bakery Business and moving women into work (which is 88%). Luminary has partnerships with employers to connect graduates with relevant job opportunities & work experience upon graduating, in addition to providing paid work within our own business. We also work closely with the OCR sector specialist in Employability, Enterprise & Entrepreneurship to ensure our training is in line with National guidelines for employment training, and have now been invited to join their Vocational and Applied Consultative Forum as a contributor, as well as contributing to a book they recently published called Developing Employability and Enterprise.

2.Increased awareness of support agencies and community groups

We have measured this and100% have shown an increase in awareness of support available to them once completing the programme. We create tailored goal-orientated development plan for each individual and research suitable additional support, including making referrals to other agencies & signposting her to organisations she didn't know about before. One of our graduates values this aspect of our work so highly that she created a booklet of local services and activities info for her fellow graduates, for each cohort she now updates this booklet to ensure it is current and in line with their support needs.

3. 'Holistic Personal development, growing in independence'

This is one of the important things we measure and women self assess at the start and end of the training with us, taking into consideration different areas of their lives. We have seen the most dramatic improvements in the areas of education & learning, social networks and relationships as well as emotional and mental health, which are really significant. With other areas of increase being self esteem, physical health, managing tenancy & accommodation as well as managing money – so lots of growth!

What are your plans and hopes for the future?

We're looking forward to our business becoming self-sustaining and generating enough income to invest into the charitable aspects of what we do. We think this might mean more café/bakery locations in the future but taking it one step at a time for now!

To support the work of Luminary Bakery, you can visit their online shop and or buy wholesale, take a trip to their café in Stoke Newington or donate to the projects here.